After the Boulder Mass Shooting Comes the Debate about Motive

Police guard people evacuated after a call of an active shooter at the King Soopers grocery store in Boulder, Colo., March 22, 2021. ( Michael Ciaglo/USA Today Network via Reuters)
The only certain conclusion we should draw for now is that the Left can’t have it both ways.

For anyone who doubts that we are living through Obama 2.0, the mass-murder attack at the King Soopers grocery store in Boulder, Colo., should be an eye-opener.

A young Muslim male immigrant from Syria carries out an ostensibly senseless shooting spree, killing ten innocent people in cold blood. A full day goes by without his being publicly identified, even though the authorities had him in custody, had identified him, and were searching his home and interviewing family members. Based on past experience with such delays, sensible people begin to wonder if there’s an effort to spin the story in a certain way so that the benighted American public won’t leap to conclusions based on negative stereotypes of Muslims.

Finally, he is identified as a 21-year-old Muslim man named Ahmad Alissa — the media sticking to a less obviously Islamic rendering of his name than “Al Issa,” which is how the suspect refers to himself. (Isa is Arabic for Jesus, whom Islam regards as a prophet.)

And now, inevitably, the Will we ever know the motive? narrative has commenced, with the New York Times, as ever, leading the way.

In point of fact, we already have some idea of what happened here. But it is complex.

Is the explanation sharia supremacism, the ideology that drives jihadists to kill? That may end up being part of the equation. But, having dealt with and studied sharia supremacists for decades, I have my doubts. Al Issa was born a Muslim, he proclaimed himself a faithful Muslim, and his Facebook account (now deleted) was strewn with Islamic messaging. But it is not, at least so far as has been reported, the usual jihadist mode of spouting bellicose scriptures. He appears to have imbibed, not so much the triumphalist Islamic aggression of ISIS, but rather the Muslim-as-victim-of-white-supremacist-America storyline served up incessantly by the media-Democrat complex and American universities.

For Al Issa, the significance of his Islamic faith was that it made him a target. He obsessed about possible surveillance. In 2019, he railed about “racist homophobes hacking my phone” — though it’s not clear what he was talking about. He loathed Donald Trump, particularly on the matter of immigration, the former president having notoriously fixated on the fear that jihadists would infiltrate large-scale migrations from Islamic societies. After the 2019 massacres at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, Al Issa invoked “Islamophobia,” the tried-and-true Muslim Brotherhood agitprop that equates worries about jihadism with knee-jerk racism (the then 19-year-old referred to “the industry of Islamophobia”). Yet, as a 15-year-old, it appears that he joined most of the rational world in mourning the jihadist mass-murder attack at the Bataclan concert hall and other locations in Paris.

To the extent that Islam animated Al Issa, it does not appear to have been as a calling to conquest and domination, which is the doctrinal interpretation that spurs jihadists to attack. Instead, it was Islam as victimology. When he talked about being a Muslim, a high-school wrestling teammate recalled, it was to complain about being discriminated against, and to warn that “if anybody tried anything” — meaning, it seems, tried to blame him for some offense — “he would file a hate crime and say they were making it up.”

In toxic combination with his victim complex, he appears to have been antisocial, prone to violent outbursts, occasionally detached from reality, and lonely.

The Times reports that in 2019, Al Issa posted “#NeedAGirlfriend” on Facebook. He claimed there to have studied computer engineering at Metropolitan State University of Denver, but the school says Al Issa “is not nor has ever been an MSU Denver student.” His brother described him as “mentally ill” and “paranoid.” His wrestling teammates at Denver South High School thought he was “quiet and pretty weird,” remembering him as not having many friends, not showing up for practices, not being very coachable, not taking losses well, and not being particularly interested in wrestling. In 2017, he brutally sucker-punched another student who, he claimed, had poked fun at him and called him “racial names” a week earlier. The incident resulted in a guilty plea to a misdemeanor assault charge the following year.

Often, these are the kinds of disturbed young men for whom a supremacist ideology provides a purpose in life and a rationale for striking out violently against the world (which this type of person would do for some other ism if he didn’t fall into Islamic supremacism first). Is that what happened here? It’s too early in the information-gathering phase to know. Some evidence tends in that direction, other evidence cuts against it.

In the main, though, indications are that this was a mentally unstable person who, having shown signs of flying into violent rages without provocation, flew into just such a rage to catastrophic effect. Islam may have been part of the trigger, but more likely because he came to see the world as against him than because he was on a mission to conquer the world.

The only certain conclusion we should draw for now is that the Left can’t have it both ways.

Right up until “Alissa” was identified as the Boulder shooter, Monday’s murders were portrayed as just another illustration of the wages of racism and white supremacism (according to Vice President Harris’s spotlight-seeking niece, among many other pundits). As Rich Lowry has detailed, just a week ago the Democrat-media complex leapt to the evidence-free conclusion that a murderous attack at Atlanta massage parlors by a mentally disturbed white man was yet another illustration of racism, this time of the anti-Asian variety. (But don’t you dare ask progressive “equity” enthusiasts about anti-Asian racism at Harvard and Yale.) Speaking of both shootings, Barack Obama said they were driven by “disaffection, racism and misogyny.”

The Capitol riot having revivified their shopworn caricatures of deplorable Trump supporters and Republicans generally, progressives have decided to make white supremacism their Big Bang theory for all that ails America. As I’ve previously demonstrated, in hyping white supremacism as the centerpiece of their sudden interest in terrorism, Democrats have even proposed amending federal law’s serviceable definition of “domestic terrorism” so that it would exclude jihadists. It’s neo-Nazis über alles — never mind sharia supremacism or the violent radicalism of the hard Left. We are to overlook that some of the very ideologues pushing the New Thinking were, in their previous incarnations, terrorism’s greatest apologists (some, indeed, were terrorists themselves).

The obsession with white supremacism is not a national-security enhancement. It is a cynical brand of cutthroat partisanship.

The kabuki dance that follows every mass-murder attack in which a Muslim is implicated is for the most part (the part that isn’t about Democrats placating their Islamist political allies) inspired by an admirable, if overwrought, determination not to tar all Muslims with the atrocities committed by jihadist zealots in the thrall of Islamic supremacist ideology. I would not endorse the farcical extremes we go to in this regard — stories about the attackers’ unknowable motives show up so on-cue that you suspect you’re being trolled. But if the point is that human events are complicated, especially when fevered political ideology and mental disturbance enter into them, then it’s an excellent point.

We shouldn’t rush to judgment, politicizing the anguish of grieving families in the process. We should wait until we know enough facts to draw reasonable conclusions. We must not be blind to the threat of ideologically driven violence, but neither should we project onto the innocent the sins of the guilty.

But everybody — not just Muslims — is entitled to that consideration.


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